County Moving On Water: Sets Framework On Robbins Talks
Discussion of water options among the county commissioners Thursday went from negotiations with Robbins to the feasibility of a sale to the village of Pinehurst.
No decisions were made, but the board did reach a consensus to authorize County Attorney Misty Leland to discuss negotiation issues with attorney Doug Gill, her counterpart for the town of Robbins.
“We don’t know what all the options are, because we don’t have all the figures,” Chairman Nick Picerno said. “I just don’t want this to become a crisis.”
Picerno admitted being frustrating with the slowness with which government of any kind moves. He cited the recent crisis over the debt ceiling in Washington as something to be avoided when it comes to local water needs.
“I think we’d all like to go to Robbins and go in a room and not come out till we have a solution,” he said.
All five commissioners agreed that negotiations with Robbins have dragged on too long, but they could not agree on how to go about speeding things up.
Commissioner Jimmy Melton said negotiations should be handled in closed (to the public) session, after which the board’s findings could be made public for further discussion and action.
“It will be impossible to do it in public session,” Melton said. He likened public discussions to “negotiating in the newspaper.”
Commissioner Larry Caddell agreed with Melton, basing his opinion on his 17 years of experience as mayor and board member in Carthage.
Commissioner Tim Lea advanced the idea of negotiating with Robbins in open session. In fact, he suggested that the two boards discuss the water issue during that meeting.
“If it doesn’t work the way you’re doing it, do something different,” Lea said.
Lea quoted the Robbins town attorney as saying negotiations could be in open session and asked, “Why does this board object to that?”
However, Leland said Gill was not talking about the entire scope of negotiations, but one specific aspect of the overall issue.
The work session, held at the Board of Elections office in Carthage, attracted a large attendance, including Robbins Mayor Theron Bell and some members of her board as well as a number of people with water and other environmental concerns.
Public Works Director Randy Gould opened the subject with a comprehensive report on the county’s water sources, needs and prospects. His presentation covered water available for purchase from neighboring communities as well as projections of water demand by 2030.
Gould’s findings indicate that Moore County presently has the capability of providing up to twice the amount of water needed to meet the maximum daily demands of the county water system. He said that the county will need about 9 million gallons a day to meet the maximum demand by 2030.
Picerno said that although there is plenty of water today, the county’s needs will grow and action should be taken promptly to avoid a crisis.
But Lea said that the very fact that a crisis is not imminent means the county has time to study all the issues carefully.
All of the commissioners said there is need for additional information.
“This is one of the things you don’t get to do twice,” Caddell said. “You can’t go ahead and then say ‘Oops.’”
Picerno asked if it was time to redefine the mission of the county’s public utilities, which include Pinehurst, Seven Lakes, Vass and several smaller areas.
He wanted to know if the emphasis should be directed toward serving rural residents.
This led him to wonder about the feasibility of selling the system serving Pinehurst to the village. Village leaders have long tried to acquire their own utilities but have been thwarted at every turn.
“Should we sell the system to Pinehurst?” Picerno asked. “We would lose revenue, but we also would lose the expense. But we could study this. All I’ve heard is that it’s not a doable thing. I want to know why.”
Lea said that a study of the cost of operating the Pinehurst system should be discussed and added his own “sneaky suspicion” that the cost would be significant, perhaps as high as $50 million.
But the main focus was on the feasibility of working with Robbins to provide a practical facility to serve northern and western areas of the county, as well as the town of Robbins and the unincorporated Seven Lakes.
The county is considering ways to develop the North West Moore Water District into a system that could serve Seven Lakes, but these details have not been worked out, nor has agreement been reached with Robbins.
The commissioners discussed the prospect of using water through Robbins and expressed special interest in a reservoir.
“A reservoir is a visible thing,” Picerno said. “You don’t need to depend on an aquifer that you can’t see.”
Commissioner Craig Kennedy expressed concern about the system’s reliance on wells. He noted that in some areas the state is mandating cutbacks in water usage because of shortages in areas drawing from the same aquifer.
“We need to focus on a surface water option,” said Kennedy, who lives in the Westmoore community.
Picerno said that the commissioners should concentrate on water needs at future meetings, perhaps placing the subject on the agenda at least for every other meeting.
He said negotiations should be discussed in closed session.
Opinions were mixed about the need for closed discussions with Robbins, but the idea of pursuing the matter with Robbins officials during the Thursday meeting was laid to rest when Melton pointed out that such discussions would be unfair because all Robbins commissioners were not present.
After joking with each other about what they called Plans A, B and C when it comes to negotiations, the board finally reached consensus that the best idea would be Plan A, in which the county attorney and the town attorney would confer and then make recommendations to their respective governing bodies.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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